It has been reported (10th October) that the Home Office will consider encouraging whistleblowing by financial incentives in cases involving fraud, bribery and corruption and enabling whistleblowers to receive a share of financial penalties levied against a company guilty of fraud against the government. Audrey Williams, Partner at global law firm Eversheds comments:

“We are entering a new era for whistleblowers. What with Wiki-leaks, NHS revelations and the more recent US surveillance allegations, whistleblowing is more prominent in our media than ever and can gain a global dimension at the click of a button. Such incidents demonstrate how exposed employers can be – not just in terms of heavy financial penalty but adverse publicity and increased scrutiny from professional or enforcement bodies. The US already has a regime which enables a whistleblower to be rewarded if a significant financial loss to the government is identified and redressed as a result of whistleblowing or if monies are recovered as a result of fraud being proven.

“A very real dilemma is highlighted by today’s reports. Clearly, exposing fraud, bribery and corruption is a matter of significant public interest and reflects the sorts of issue that lies at the heart of legal protection for whistleblowers. But perhaps what is really needed is better communication between employers and staff so that genuine concerns can be expressed without fear, so that employers are also able to deal with those without genuine public interest motives without penalty.”

“Since June, employers have had a legal responsibility to actively protect against detrimental treatment or bullying of whistleblowers. This change could start to engender much wider cultural change.Having a policy, by itself, will not be enough. Taking “all reasonable steps”, by way of a defence, will necessarily involve bringing a paper policy to life and a message to employees that legitimate whistle-blowers will be supported – a step which in itself may give employees greater confidence to come forwards. In particular, employers must protect whistleblowers from repercussions from other employees. Inevitably spurious or misguided whistleblowing will still occur. However, if the changes encourage dialogue in the workplace, this can surely only be a good thing. Employees will feel more able to raise concerns. In turn, employers who know the concerns of their employees will be able to take appropriate action, rather than allow them to fester unheard – more confident as to which are potentially whistleblowing and which personal issues.”